Tag Archives: make’s you think

Numbers Game

Statics are a funny thing.  They can be molded to prove any point and they can be totally made up to begin with.  Back in the late 80’s and throughout the 90’s it used to be common to say to teens "You don’t want to become another static."  This was a scare tactic used to deter teens away from drugs, gangs and other illegal acts.  I always wondered why reducing the value of someone’s life down to a number was significant as if statics weren’t taken on everything in life.

During an election we’re told that every vote counts.  This point was hammered home heavily during the 2000 Presidential Election in Florida.  It was also such a huge topic, it spawned a movie based on the premise called Swing Vote.  Next year we’ll be taking a census here in the US and there are already flyers, radio commercials, internet ads and news articles to prepare us to be counted.

Are all of the numbers just hype? A lot of them are:

  • 9 out of 10 dentist recommend Magic Toothpaste
  • More than 50% of marriages end in divorce
  • TV Ratings
  • Box office gross
  • Record sales
  • News Polls
  • Mock Elections

If you listen to the numbers it sounds as if everything is one sided. Dentists only seem to like 2 brands of toothpaste but feel very strongly about 1 of them, divorce has the same probability as a coin toss and of course more people decided to watch the last episode of M.A.S.H. and Who Shot JR in Dallas then who watched the final episode of Roots.

As with all statistics the question remains, "How do you dispute it?" I’ve always been told that I have a greater chance of dying before the age of 27 because of my skin color but had I been born a different color, I had the same chance of dying of teen suicide.  The difference in the two is that in school, they teach you the signs of depression and suicide plus how to prevent them but they don’t teach you the signs of how to identify and prevent someone from dying of drug or violence related causes.  Sure there is the "Say no to Drugs" and D.A.R.E. campaigns.

You can’t dispute statistics because you don’t have the data used to generate them. I know this because 99% of the readers reading this don’t know where to find the data.  How do I know that? I don’t! But you can’t prove that I don’t any more than you can prove that any other statistics are real.

This is not to say that statistics can’t be trusted. Statistics should be questioned and scrutinized harder than they currently are.  If someone quotes a marriage statistic, respond with how many of those people remarry. If 9 out of 10 people recommend something, you should dismiss it because it’s advertising.

One interesting view on statistics has been Freakonomics, an economists view on statistics.  The book produced from this blog is a must read and has some interesting analysis of topics such as backyard pools are deadlier to children than guns to how profitable selling drugs really is.  A link to the book is below but blog link above is also worth looking at.

You may have noticed that there were no links to statistics or actual numbers in this post.  The reason being I can’t verify any of the numbers or their sources.  Many websites will list a source but no way to verify the data itself so I haven’t provided a source.  As with all of my posts, if I mention something of value, I try to provide a link to more information to educate those who are unaware of topics and as a source for more information.  This site is about raising discussion and the more information there is, the more intelligent the conversation can be.  Remember, question everything.

Good-bye Summer, Hello School

Labor Day marks the beginning and end of many things; it’s the unofficial end of summer, it’s the end of Reggae Season; here in the northeast the weather changes; and of course it means that school is starting (or in some cases has started) and not a moment too soon.  I’ve never been a big advocate of promoting school but after the things I witnessed this summer from our youth and some adults, I am now because we are in serious trouble!

Let’s start with the most reason incident which will sound like it came right out of a school book. Note: These are actual accounts. The names will be changed to protect the innocent even though they should be singled out and publically humiliated for their ignorance.

Xavier (a 16-17 year old in New Jersey) is selling a bag of oranges for $6.20.  Paul gives him $20.25 (that’s a $20 bill and a quarter). How much change should Paul expect back from Xavier?

Before I give you the glaring answer, let me explain exactly what happened. Xavier took the money and entered $6.25 in the register which told him to issue $0.05 back in changed. Confused by his error, Xavier closed the register drawer. Not able to open it himself, he called for his manager.  With the drawer problem now solved we are back to the math. Still perplexed, Xavier quickly wiped out his cell phone, opened the calculator then returned the proper change?I don’t think this one needs to be explained.

I saw a documentary called Superhuman: Genius which featured a child prodigy artist. Her artwork was absolutely amazing for someone of her age. During the program her parents mentioned that sometimes she would paint for 14 hours a day and produce a master piece. The alarming thing she mentioned was not that she was home-schooled but that she was only taught subjects that interested her.  This excluded math.

 

When I was in school, I also wished I could only study the subjects I wanted and that others were useless because they had nothing to do with my primary focus.  I now realize that those other subjects are what made me into a well rounded person.

A co-worker of mine whose is from another country and speaks English as a second language has a son, who only speaks English, in a local day care program. He came to me one day and started counting in Spanish. I found this strange because his parents are not from a Spanish speaking country.

I will quickly say that I have nothing against people who speak Spanish. My beef here is with the education system itself. Who decided that Spanish is the second (or third) language for this child? In this case, the child doesn’t speak the native language of his parents but knows some Spanish. My question is "Why not Italian, Danish or Portuguese?" I say these languages specifically because the US has never faced these countries other than in the Olympics or soccer (I’m no history buff so I may be wrong). Is this because Dora and Diego are so popular? Since when did commercialism determine what we taught our students?  It just went by another name, propaganda.

This leads to our last topic:

President Obama plans to address our nation’s students in an address at the beginning of the school year.

Of course this is not without controversy. Some parents don’t want their kids to hear him speak. Some say it’s a political campaign in disguise targeted at children (as if most will be able to vote in the next election). And others don’t want the black President to speak to their children, but they don’t want to admit that is the case. I’ll let the news organizations handle this one as you’ll hear plenty about this in the next couple days.

Back to School

It seems every month has some sort of theme in this country that involves spending money.  This month is the annual Back to School push.  Stores put supplies, clothes and other items on sale and in advertisements in hopes of cashing in on this yearly affair. But that in itself is not the issue at hand.

The issue is preparation at this time of year.  All too often, people give themselves a month or less than 30 days to get ready for a typical school year lasting at least 180 school days or 8 months. You don’t have to look hard to find ways of saving money for back to school items. Don’t get me wrong, saving money is a good thing.  No one wants to pay as much as they can for things if they can get them for less.  Even the rich know that paying a lot for things is foolish if it’s not necessary.

No, my issue is with the people who can’t afford to buy school supplies for their kids.  Not because they can’t buy the supplies themselves, but because they waited until the last minute for something they knew was coming. The school year typically ends sometime in June and starts again at the end of August.  In that time between, many families go on vacation, plan repairs, send their kids to camp, have BBQ’s and spend money in other ways. Freeze pops and trips to the beach may be fun but when these items leave you in a situation where you must decide whether to buy your child a pencil and paper or pay a bill is a terrible position to be in.  And more importantly it is a bad lesson for your children.  Waiting until the last moment rather than properly planning of a major purchase (and yes this counts as one) is a lesson that man learn too late in life (think foreclosure).

As a society, we start Spring Break planning in January (typically 7 days),summer vacation planning in March (typically 7 days) and Christmas shopping in October (only 1 day) but we only give ourselves only 30 days to prepare our children to learn.  Something sound funny here? Or is this a major misplacement of priorities?  I’ll let you be the judge of that because I’ve already made up my mind.

Everyone needs a little (and sometimes a lot) of help sometimes which many organizations are willing to provide it, especially when it comes to children:

A local radio station here in Philly 100.3 The Beat is giving away free hair cuts and I’m sure others will follow suit with their own promotions to aid in the back to school push.  After hearing about this I started to wonder to myself why don’t we start this type of charity and thinking in June rather than in August. If you started the week after school started and bought one type of supply each week through the summer, by the time school started you would have all of the supplies needed for the whole year.  What’s better is you’ve now spread out the purchases to more than one lump sum and more than likely able to better budget you summer and school purchases.

As a matter of fact, I’m going to start this planning right now for next school year.  I want to have our students in a better position next school year than they are for this coming school year.  We only have these types of promotions on radio stations whose markets are mostly black but this should end.  If we want to make a change in our lives we need to get better at planning for the future.  Teaching this lesson early in life is a great way to get there.  If you are not of school year age and are either in the education profession, or know someone with school age children now is the time to get on the ball.  Start a new program at your, call it what you want and take all the credit for the idea if you want but lets make a change.  Not because Obama is president, because it is necessary!

How to say goodbye

Today we said good bye to Michael Jackson in a very public way.  There’s no doubt about his fame, his legacy and the amount of people he touched.  For a few hours, the world stopped and watched as the Jackson family held a public memorial the honor the man the the world adored so much.

As the family said a tearful good bye in front of cameras and the whole worlds eyes, thousands of people in the Staples Center scream out "We love you Janet!", "Usher you are my baby!" and "We miss you Michael!".  On their way out of the Staples Center, many more stop for interviews and declare that they just saw a "great show", "will miss him very much" and "I still can’t believe he’s gone." 

The day before as I watched fans scream in joy for being rewarded with tickets to the memorial service, I prepared myself for the the things above.  Again the day before, Debbie Rowe, the mother of the two oldest children lashed out at reporters asking questions about getting the children.

It’s a shame that even in times of heartache and pain, those in the public eye can’t have a private moment to grieve.  Most of us will never have to deal with camera flashes and questions while trying to decide where to lay someone to rest or how to settle their debts. 

Press releases and public appearances while fighting back tears and pain are necessary but hard to do as we’ve seen many times before with grieving celebrity families.  Those that can, ask for privacy and depending on how popular they are get their wish.  But this is Michael Jackson, the man whole has been in the public eye since he was six years old. In a situation like this, it was a given that a public service would be the only option.

As a grieving public we too have a responsibility to let the family get their affairs in order and allow us in when they are ready. We claim to know our celebrities but we really don’t, not personally anyway.  We know the parts of them that they let us see, the dressed-up watered-down versions of themselves that is allowed to be public. We strive so much to have the connection that those truly close to them have but will never achieve it.  That determination is what makes us fans.  As Prince once put it, "Fan is short for fanatic?" and he would rather be surrounded by friends.

So if we are to be friends, why can’t show our extended friends the same respect we would our personal friends? Because they are not our real friends. Friendship is give and take but we want celebrities to give themselves to us while we take it all in. We want to own them so we buy paraphernalia.  We want to be them so we buy the clothes they wear and dress like them. We want to know all about them so we research them, learn their stories and share their personal experiences.

But the one things we don’t want are their troubles that come with being famous.  We want to watch them go through it so that we can be entertained even more by them. So why can’t we give them just a few moments to themselves since they have given us so much?  Because we have a slight disconnect we it comes to how others feel. Others emotional wellbeing is as important to us as our own.  We’ve lost part of the bonds we had to other humans. We celebrate death and victory of war at the same time. Vengeance, loss, pain and joy are all experienced at the same time these days but we only think about the side that we see.  If it’s the good side, we never think about those that experience the bad but if we get the bad we only want the good. 

It’s time we start seeing both sides of the equation. We need to know that sometimes when we experience joy others get pain.  Not only should we acknowledge their pain we should try to understand it.  Even the times when we feel indifferent.  We are all people, we all feeling things differently and we all need to respect each others feelings.

What ever happened to headphones?

In case you can’t tell, I love music.  I mean really love music!  I wouldn’t call myself an enthusiast because I just don’t have the time for that level of commitment to it, but I’m pretty close.  I like my trebles clear, my mid-ranges loud and my lows deep and boomy.  I’d rather buy a CD than download an MP3 because I can actually hear the difference when played through a good system.  Case in point, audio clarity is important to me.

So the other day in a fit of frustration, I broke my headphones by slamming them against my desk because they were the cheapest expendable thing near me!  No problem, I’ll just order another pair.  But then I realized my favorite pair of Sony MDR-D777LP Altus Stereo Headphones were discontinued.  No problem, I got them from the Sony Outlet for a low price anyway so I’ll just head down to the local Best Buy and pick out a pair of something similar. I knew what a I want; some over the ear headphones to keep the music in and the sound of others out.  Nothing over $100 because honestly, that’s way too much for something that could be slammed against a desk and broken.

I arrived at the store and head immediately to the portable music isle.  Being a frequent visitor I knew the layout of the store better than some of the employees.  After a few seconds of browsing I realized the selection was earphones, earphones and more earphones. 

The quick and dirty difference
Earphones  Headphones

Earphones or ear buds go into your ear canal. Friction, suction or braces around the ear hold them in place. Sound reproduction is weak due to their size but they are very portable and compact.

Headphones fit either over the whole ear (pictured), or sit on top of the ear. A band goes over or behind your head to hold them in place. Sound reproduction is very accurate across the whole range but are big and bulky.

Baffled, I sought the help of the closest employee thinking there must be another isle that has headphones I didn’t know about.  The employee, let’s call him Mike, took me over to a pair of headphones endorsed by Dr. Dre, cryptically called Beats by Dr. Dre.  This seemed like an odd endorsement by a rapper but he (and Monster Cable) put a lot of research into the product.  And that research is reflected in the price tag, $149 and $299 for earphones and headphones respectively.  That’s more than most MP3 players and way too rich for my budget.

Another brand of headphones caught my eyes and the name and insignia say it all, SkullCandy.  The skull fashion craze never caught my attention so these were not something I could see myself wearing but they did catch Snoop Dogg’s attention. The company announced a partnership with him.  They sell the product and he would simply attach his name to it.  Another odd pairing but what do I know.

Mike then took me over to the Bose area.  The name alone was enough to keep away from.  Don’t get me wrong, Bose is a quality brand name with excellent products but their pricing structure always leaves me with a sour taste in my mouth.

Next stop was Sony. I’ve used them for years and know what to expect from them, how can I go wrong.  Well, the selection was pretty dry their as well.  Three choices; $19, $29 and $99.  For a second I thought I was at Taco Bell with that pricing structure. 

After that comment, Mike realized I was serious about this and of course laughed.  This is a big gamble for something so little but with a big price tag. One gripe I’ve always had with stores was the inability to listen to headphones before you buy them.  It’s a catch-22 that can’t be avoided, consumers are a rick because they could break them if not careful and you don’t know what they sound like until you buy them. 

Stores have good reason not to put them out for testing.  This things break very easily (as I demonstrated earlier). The cords are usually very flimsy no matter how much they cost and housings are usually thin pieces of plastic to keep the weight down.  They offer very little room for repair other than tape and glue.  Once they break, people just buy another pair typically by type, price, color and shape (in that order according to Mike). 

My all-time favorite brand is Coby.  They made a great pair of over the ear headphones called the CV200 that were comfortable, had great sound reproduction (bass included), came paired with a set of earphones all for a nice price; $15-$25.  At that price they were a great bargain! They were mainly sold by music stores.  You know those places that used to occupy the malls.  You see where I’m going with this.  This brand is harder to find in stored these day due to their low familiarity with consumers but if you see them pick them up.  They have been replaced by the CV210 which look like they are made of stronger material.

It looks like headphones are still around but the selection is dying out.  The Beats by Dr. Dre hope to bring them back but the price is too high for that.  SkullCandy may have a catchy name, but the addition of skulls on them are enough to keep some people away.  Sony offers many price points which help budget minded people.  Bose, well they will always have audio enthusiasts and magazine reviewers to help their sells. And last but not least Coby will be my choice once again.  High prices don’t always mean a better experience so value will always win out for accessories like this.

 


Is Hip Hop appropriate for advertising?

I’m not sure if it’s maturity or others influence on myself but there’s something seriously wrong with this:

There’s even a longer version:

And of course the original:

On the surface we have a Burger King ad campaign for a SpongeBob Squarepants toy series using a parody of Sir Mix-a-Lot – Baby Got Back.  But for some reason I can’t help but notice the exploitation of the girls dancing around in the background with what appears to be phonebooks in their pants, as lyrically described in the song.  Granted SpongeBob’s last name is Squarepants and not Squareback or Squarebutt, the song is a close in its attempt at a parody. 

Is this an attempt to sell sex to children? I don’t think so. Though this was/is a popular song (more on that in a later post), this isn’t a a song in heavy rotation today.  It’s mainly played in clubs, bars, sports areas and on Top 40 stations, usually away from SpongeBob’s target audience.  The commercial targets more the adult than the child with with a nostalgic song that most parents with children of this age would recognize. I’m sure they all gave the usual silent disapproving head shake when they saw it as I did and I don’t have children.

Is this in poor taste?  Certainly so!  I don’t think anyone would agree with the idea that children 2-11 need sexual images to be enticed to want toys.  The toy itself is enough.  SpongeBob alone is one of the most popular images for children today.  A silent commercial with just the Burger King logo and flashes of the toys would be enough for kids to want them. I’ve heard some people argue that children seem far worse images on TV but that’s no excuse for continuation of that issue.

In recent years, Hip Hop songs have started to appear along side products more often.  A few years back, Ludacris had a failed campaign with Pepsi when Bill O’Reilly mentioned that Ludacris was a bad influence on impressionable children and citing as an example his lyrical boast that he has ”hoes in different area codes.” 

Boost Mobile used commercials featuring names like Jermaine Dupree, Young Jeezy, Ludacris, Kanye West, The Game and Fat JoeNaz and AZ did a Sprite commercial. 

50 cent has appeared in many commercials for his Vitamin Water and and one for Reebok along side Jay-Z

Speaking of Hova, he and Pharrell both appeared in commercials for HP laptops. 

And on rare occasions, a beef arises in the case if Apple vs. Lugz.

The list goes on and on so it looks like Hip Hop is ready for advertising despite some stumbling along the way.  When done tastefully, any commercial can be paired with any genre of music.  It’s not the artists reputation that is issue but the advertisers themselves that are responsible for the commercials just as much it is the artists and record companies who are responsible for the musical content.  As Sir Mix-a-Lot humbly puts it, "Booty is booty", it just how you present it.

Transitions: The Lost Art Form

Fader

It’s probably not something you think about or notice often until it happens but I’ll set the scene;  You’re listening to one of your favorite songs.  It has an up beat tempo with hard bass lines, Notorious B.I.G. – Mo Money Mo Problems for instance.  The song ends and the next song starts to play?and it’s Mariah Carey ? Butterfly. Don’t get me wrong, I love Mariah but a better song choice after Mo Money Mo Problems would be Breakdown.  The tempo and bass lines are similar and the content keeps that same edge.

The digital age has brought about the death of smooth song transitions.  Random playlists on our MP3 players & computers, satellite radio, music stations on TV and internet streaming sites all contribute to the problem.  They use computer algorithms to play songs based on popularity, what hasn’t played in the last 20 minutes or just some preprogrammed order.  No computer program can analyze what sounds pleasant to the human ear or determine what song will sound best when played after the another.  This isn’t as complex as wine pairing but you wouldn’t ruin a good steak by pairing it with a Pinot Grigio!

Thankfully we have people that are paid to do this. They are the ones that should know how to perform this simple technique with skill and precision.  It is their job is after all to play music. They call themselves DJ’s and they work at radio stations, parties and clubs. In the radio setting, they have the highest possible audience but very little control.  At parties they have smallest audience and no control at all. And at the club, they usually have a nice size audience, depending on the club, and the most control. 

Control is the key to performing a good transition. Control allows you to freely choose the songs within your catalog that best compliment each others melodies. Of course you also need knowledge about how these songs sound and may sound together. 

Radio DJ’s try to get around this by altering the tempo of the song and speeding up or down the song to match the next or previous song.  This typically goes unnoticed by most listeners and accomplishes the goal but forces songs to go together that normally wouldn’t sound well together.  The unexpected result is a warped version of the song that is 2 or 3 beats off from the original.  If you play an instrument or can read music then you understand the issue here.

DJ’s at parties don’t usually use transitions due to the nature of the business.  The organizer typically requests certain songs to be played or not played and breaks between songs are sometimes filled with comments from the DJ or others within the party.  Heavily scripted and little room for randomness.

Now there’s the Club DJ. Their play lists are typically a hybrid of the Radio and Party DJ; a list of popular songs often with transitions using tempo control.  There is one catch of course; have you ever noticed that they always play some song that clears the floor?  Club owners don’t really want you to dance, they want you to spend money on drinks.  And since you can’t drink as much while dancing, they purposely get DJ’s to play bad songs to send you to the bar.  Profit from the cover charge is nothing compared to the profit of an over charged drink!

The shrinking (after a recent growth spurt) population of the Mix-Tape DJ understand the art of transitions.  For them, clever use of the cross fader, scratching and sometimes vocals mask the change in tempo and base lines in songs.  Thiers are often carefully thought out playlist to enhance and compliment the theme of the album.  Radio DJ’s also use this approach but only during party mixes that occur during rush hour runs, lunch hour or prime-time Friday/Saturday nights but it only lasts about 20 minutes and you don’t get the full song.

So it might seem like you’re screwed doesn’t it?  DJ’s just don’t put value in transitions like they used to.  DJ’s may not put too much value in it but if you attend concerts you will notice that the artists do.  Set lists are chosen very carefully to allow for wardrobe changes, set changes and you guessed it, song transitions. 

Now if only the DJ’s could pay attention to the artists close enough to learn something other than the latest body-part-dance-song to play we might have some better sounding radio.

Enjoy.

 

 

 

 

The little things you can do on Earth Day

Today is Earth Day which means that in short, you think about your affect on the planet and how you can make it better. Now I’m not going to tell you to go out and by a Hybrid Car or plant a tree (though you probably should do the latter) but I will ask that you take a second and think about the small things we do in life that impact the planet. 

  • Don’t throw your trash on the ground.  Find the nearest trash can and dispose of it properly.  Recycle it if you can but I’m not asking for miracles here.
  • Learn about, teach someone and participate in Recycling, Every little bit helps.
  • If you smoke, don’t throw the butt out the car window or on the ground.  Keep it in your car and/or find an appropriate container to put it in when you are finish.
  • While you’re at it, quit smoking all together.  Less pollutants in the air, your lungs and everyone else’s.
  • Pick up trash around your neighborhood or someone else’s.  If you’re going to run the streets you might as well keep them clean.
  • Use less water when washing your hands, taking a shower or brushing your teeth.
  • Plan a garden, plant a tree or learn where to plant one.  Arbor Day is around the corner and I’ll be reminding you about that also.

These are just small things you can change in your life everyday that will have not only a big impact on you but others around you.  We all live here and someday, your children and theirs will also.  Let’s make sure it is around and in better shape than when you were a kid. Give Wall-E a break.

Judge not, lest ye be judged!

 

I’m sure you’ve seen or heard about it by now but if not?

True this isn’t Hip Hop but it does illustrate a valid point about appearances and talent today. First some names; Ruben Studdard, Meatloaf, Barry White, Aretha Franklin, Wynonna Judd, Jennifer Hudson, Martha Wash, Luciano Pavarotti and Jill Schott. What do they all have in common?  They don’t all look like today’s low-rise or skinny jeans wearing, choreographed dancing, bubble gum artist that seems to come out of the music industry dispenser.

No, she’s a normal person.  Average by some standards, below by others but that’s not the point.  If you watch the media coverage of Susan they all point out the same thing which should be the real story, the audience members’ first reactions.  Everyone is told at some point in their lives that first impressions are important and appearance is everything but what exactly does that mean?  When do first impressions start and stop?  What are the rules for judging someone for the first time?  And are our impressions defined by others or do we make them up?

In this case, when Susan walked on stage everyone clearly had their minds made up about her.  And when she opened her mouth to speak, some people already solidified their thoughts.  And then she began to sing and shocked the hell out of everyone in the audience both in-studio and home.  And I say, Good for her!  It’s rare that people come across events such as this in their lives but did get the important lesson?

That lesson is that in terms of talent, looks don’t mean a think.  Going back to the list of people from before, every one of them has/had a weight problem either before or during their careers.  I’m sure there was some teasing from their peers and strangers but that didn’t stop them from showing their talents.  Even on this show, Susan shined bright.  Now of course the judges knew she could sing before she came on stage and played into her appearance for the audience entertainment but they both (Susan and the judges) knew she would be continuing on.

Looking at music today I have to wonder if we are doomed to 90 lb teenage girls that dance provocatively in videos and guys that must have at least a 6 pack but neither of them with any real talent. Sex sales, we know but only for so long.  It doesn’t keep you coming back for more.  Music today has lost its spark, its passion.  Now it’s short term results but no matter how much you want it to, sex doesn’t last very long in the grand scheme of things.